For Policy Wonks Only

by Steve, April 8th, 2008

Willamette Week has posted video of their panel interviews of candidates for City Council seats one and four on their Web site.

Randy Leonard is a shoe-in for seat four, but seat one has no incumbent (it is Sam Adam’s current seat).

Willy Week interviewed the candidates en masse, and there are some good exchanges on streetcars vs. sidewalks between Amanda Fritz and Chris Smith. Fritz has made it a top issue for her campaign to fund basic services in the neighborhoods first, and Smith seems to be running on expanding the streetcar city-wide.

Interesting contrast, and it’s also interesting to hear from the other candidates.

Just a hunch, but it would seem WW might just endorse Fritz.

4 Responses to “For Policy Wonks Only”

  1. Comment from Terry:

    Just watched the whole interview.

    Chris Smith came across as the smartest kid on the block. And visionary. Amanda was, well, Amanda, very knowledgeable but otherwise rather pedestrian (if you’ll forgive the pun.)

    I liked Mike Fahey too. But Charles Lewis? He’s an angry young man. Scary. The kind of guy Jack would vote for. (Plus he got the Stand for Children endorsement. Or so he said.)

    Forget about John Branam. I can’t vote for anyone who digs up Gates grants for the school district.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    I really respect your opinion, Terry, so please describe what you think Smith’s vision is. From what he said in this interview, it seems to be to replicate city-wide the kind of development the central streetcar has spurred, which he maintains will cut our carbon footprint in half.

    Hey, I’m all for cutting our carbon footprint in half, but frankly, Smith’s vision to get us there sounds like back-to-the-future sci-fi.

    Yes, the conspiracy that tore up streetcar tracks in every major US city was one of the great, little-known tragedies of the 20th century. (Somewhere I have the outline of a book I wanted to write about superior technologies — e.g. streetcars — that have been cast aside for non-technical reasons. It was going to be called “Stolen Technology.”)

    But on close examination, the kind of high-density, high-end condo development spurred by the central-city streetcar is nothing but a boon to developers. It would be disastrous to the character of our inner-Portland neighborhoods if we replicated that kind of development on the east side.

    The truth about density is that we have over-built the kind of high-end housing the streetcar promotes, to the extent that many of the South Waterfront condos under construction (subsidized by the city’s ongoing investment in the streetcar and tram) have already been converted to rentals. And we can build ample housing stock within the existing UGB to support even the largest predictions for future growth without building the kind of condo towers we see in the Pearl and South Waterfront on the east side.

    We could certainly use more low-income housing stock, but streetcar-spurred development has a checkered history in that regard.

    We should definitely encourage more mass transit use, but we already have a great bus system that could be inexpensively improved with things like signal priority and restricted lanes.

    Converting heavily-used bus lines to streetcars may make some sense, but you’ve got to keep in mind that shifting from direct internal combustion to electric just pushes the problem somewhere else, like hydro, natural gas, or coal power production.

    Does Smith’s vision extend beyond the hypothetical “Go by streetcar” tattoo he’d put on his forehead?

    If so, what is it?

    Amanda has a more well-rounded view of the issues, and a sharp mind for policy detail. Maybe that’s not sexy or visionary, but her focus on neighborhoods, accountability and livability make her a better candidate for city council.

  3. Comment from Terry:

    You took my comment much more seriously than I intended, Steve. But since you ask, here’s what I mean by visionary.

    Chris seems to see the big picture of urban development in the age of global warming. And transportation options are crucial to that development. The expansion of a streetcar system city-wide has much more to do with mass transit than with condominium development. And effective, accessible mass transit is vital, in my opinion, for the cities of the future, unless one envisions Houston or L.A. as models for the future of urban design.

    Portland’s Tri-Met and Max are much too limited and inconvenient to provide the sort of people movement you see in cities like New York or London. Furthermore, I don’t think that it comes down to streetcars versus buses. It’s not an either or proposition. The new transit mall, for example, will run buses along side light rail trains.

    As far as energy consumption goes, I don’t know enough to conclude that a switch to electricity from internal combustion petroleum will simply be a carbon footprint wash. I just know that it’s important to get more cars off the road if Portland –and the planet– are to remain habitable.

    I suspect that Chris Smith, however, may know about the carbon impact of electrical power versus internal combustion.

    That said, Amanda was impressive. And as I said, quite knowledgeable about the workings of city government. (But so was Chris Smith.)

  4. Comment from Steve:

    I’d have to go back and check, but Smith said something along the lines of wanting to replicate the kind of development spurred by the central city streetcar on the east side, and said this would cut our carbon footprint in half. He wasn’t just talking about building out the streetcar system, but the development model that’s given us the Pearl and South Waterfront.

    I think this is 1) pure fantasy, 2) pure bunk and 3) really, really scary that he thinks this is a good idea.

    Yes, we need better mass transit, and, more importantly, better mass transit usage rates. Whether or not building fixed rail is the best way to do this aside, this is not a complete vision for urban development, and it’s certainly not a vision for how to run a city.

    This is one part of the big picture, and it is clearly an important part. But we’re not going to solve our transportation problems simply by laying tracks, and we’re definitely not going to solve our housing problems by replicating the Pearl District all over town.

    Get this: I’m a rail enthusiast. I’m envious of European cities, with their interconnected streetcars, subways and bus systems. But they didn’t build these systems to promote condo development; they built them to carry people from where they live to where they work and shop and back home again.

    As much as I dig rail, I wouldn’t want to hang my entire campaign on “a streetcar on every block.” Somehow that just doesn’t reach the common man like “a chicken in every pot.”